The participants (in alphabetical order)…
Jon Burlingame is the author of The Music of James Bond (Oxford University Press, 2012). He also authored Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks (Watson-Guptill, 2000) and TV’s Biggest Hits: The Story of Television Themes from Dragnet to Friends (Schirmer, 1996). He writes regularly for the entertainment industry trade Variety and has also been published in The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He started writing about spy music for the 1970s fanzine File Forty and has since produced seven CDs of original music from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for the Film Score Monthly label. His website is www.jonburlingame.com.
John Cork is the author (with Collin Stutz) of James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007) and (with Bruce Scivally) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002) and (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and value added material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for many of the James Bond and Pink Panther titles as well as Chariots of Fire and The Hustler. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman). He has recently contributed articles on the literary history of James Bond for ianfleming.com and The Book Collector.
Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Dave Worrall) of The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999) and (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992). He also wrote The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001) and (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”
Steven Jay Rubin is the author of The James Bond Films: A Behind-the-Scenes History (Random House, 1981) and The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia (McGraw-Hill, 2002). His other books include The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia (Chicago Review, 2017) and Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010 (McFarland, 2011), and he has written for Cinefantastique and Cinema Retro.
Graham Rye is the author of The James Bond Girls (Boxtree, 1989) and the editor, designer and publisher of 007 Magazine.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to Dr. No, and then enjoy the conversation with these James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Dr. No worthy of celebration on its 55th anniversary?
Jon Burlingame: In so many ways we can’t possibly count them! How much poorer would our lives have been without James Bond movies for the past 50 years?! It’s really unthinkable when you consider the enormous cultural impact over the years of Ian Fleming, James Bond, Cubby Broccoli & Harry Saltzman, even composer John Barry (whose initial fame stemmed from his association with the 007 franchise).
It’s where it all started. And while the film hasn’t aged as well as some others in that first decade, it did have that amazing sense of style, that impressive story and indelible characters, the larger-than-life spy plot that we had not really encountered before in films. When you think of what director Terence Young and star Sean Connery managed on a fairly limited budget, it’s really remarkable. And of course it launched an entire series — today we’d call it a “franchise” — of movies that influenced a generation in how to think about espionage and East-West relations, and in some ways predicted the dark and dangerous side of global corporate entities that didn’t have people’s best interests at heart, only their own (“counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge and extortion,” one might say).
John Cork: Dr. No gave us the cinematic James Bond, the James Bond Theme, the gunbarrel opening, the first of the Maurice Binder title sequences, and Ursula Andress walking from the sea in her white bikini. The film also gave audiences Sean Connery as a major star. Something shifted with Dr. No. When Bond basically coerces Miss Taro into having sex with him (twice) and then shoots Professor Dent in the back, audiences saw a different kind of ruthless hero. Bond was not portrayed as a damaged man, like John Wayne in The Searchers or Red River or T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, but a figure to be admired, whose morals are never brought into question. It was startling and felt completely new.
Dr. No is a fantastic film. It may seem a bit less outlandish than later Bonds to some, but the movie has everything: exotic locales, elegance, sex, action, adventure, and one of the great film villains. Yes, a few of the performances are clunky, and the back projection feels like…back projection, but, news alert, in fifty-five years the CGI in the Marvel movies isn’t going to hold up very well, either. There is a thick dose of racism that informs the character of Quarrel, which thankfully gets horrified laughter and even groans from modern audiences. But mostly, there is the character of Bond who embodies so many masculine ideas. He is dangerous, intelligent, elegant, confident, and sexually attractive to women. This is a difficult combination to beat, but equally a difficult combination to pull off on film without lapsing into pompousness or self-parody. What Terence Young and Sean Connery delivered was a game-changer.
Lee Pfeiffer: Dr. No’s influence on the action cinema genre is incalculable. Not only did the film introduce an iconic screen hero to international audiences, the movie changed the entire look and feel of action/adventure films. There was plenty of credit to go around beginning with a script that allowed the hero to be witty and not take the developments too seriously. Terence Young was the perfect director. He played up the surrealistic aspects of the film without ever devolving into satire or slapstick. There was also the influence of Peter Hunt, whose fast-style editing of quick cuts proved to be widely influential. Then there were the musical contributions of Monty Norman, who composed the James Bond Theme, and John Barry who orchestrated it so memorably. Most obviously was the casting of Sean Connery. Had an actor not so well-suited to the role of Bond been cast, the series might have been short-lived. The film did well at the box office but was not a blockbuster. It did, however, pave the way for the future Bond movies which were blockbusters. I believe that Dr. No probably made more money on reissues than it did during its initial run. Because Bond movies came out in those days in relatively rapid succession, the momentum established with Dr. No was able to build exponentially and very quickly. With the release of Goldfinger a scant two years later, Bond was already an international phenomenon.
Steven Jay Rubin: Dr. No is worthy because it was the first movie in the series and established the ground rules for much of the films that followed. Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli also put together a killer team on both sides of the camera. They gave Sean Connery his first true starring role in a major feature, paving the way for films that achieved enormous success in the international box office. They paired writer Richard Maibaum with director Terence Young, a great combination. They brought in production designer Ken Adam, editor Peter Hunt, stuntman Bob Simmons, cameraman Ted Moore, and many other artists who brought their A game to a little film budgeted just north of $1 million. And they delivered a wonderful adventure film that is truly underrated in the 007 canon.
Graham Rye: It’s not only the James Bond film that started the record-breaking James Bond film series but also the spy craze in international cinema. It was a unique groundbreaking picture for its time and set so much more in motion it should be celebrated every 10 years forever!
Coate: Can you describe what it was like seeing Dr. No for the first time?
Burlingame: Sorry to say that I was only 9 when it was released in 1962 and I didn’t see it for several years. I had to catch up with the first five after I saw On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and did so with various double-bill reissues, and was hooked forever after. And having already experienced the John Barry scores for the second through sixth films, I was a little startled by the musical hodgepodge that greeted me with the Dr. No score (the Barry-arranged Bond theme, the odd mix of Monty Norman songs and score, etc.). And then the differences between the score and the soundtrack album took years to unravel and understand.
Cork: I have no memory of the first time I saw Dr. No. It was the summer of 1965 on a double-bill with From Russia with Love. My mother says that we saw both films, but I was not quite four, and all I remember is one scene in From Russia with Love. I later saw the film on ABC when it premiered. I loved it, but by that time I was already obsessed with James Bond. The first time I saw it on the big screen as an adult was in the fall of 1980 at the Nuart in Los Angeles again on a double bill with From Russia with Love. I took the bus to the theater across town from the USC campus and then walked for miles to get back in the middle of the night. It was a great night at the movies, and one that really re-ignited my love of James Bond films.
Pfeiffer: The first Bond movie I saw was From Russia with Love on its U.S. release in 1964. I had actually wanted to see the second feature: Vincent Price in Twice Told Tales at the Loew’s Jersey City movie palace. I didn’t want to stay for the Bond film because, based on the title — and being an eight-year-old boy — I thought it would be a sappy love story about people in the Soviet Union. My father convinced me to stay and I’m glad he did because the Bond film blew me away. I had never seen an action movie like it. Later that evening, my older brother Ray informed me that there had been a previous Bond film, Dr. No, that he had seen. I became obsessed with seeing it, but of course in those days there was no home video. In 1965, they re-issued Dr. No with From Russia with Love as the first Bond double feature. It did phenomenal business and allowed those of us who hadn’t seen Dr. No to finally catch up with it. I loved the movie but remember being a bit puzzled. By this point I had seen Desmond Llewelyn twice in the role of “Q” and I couldn’t figure out why they had another actor, Peter Burton, play him in Dr. No. I was also a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a pre-credits sequence and no deadly gadgets. But I was greatly impressed by the film and especially Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No.
Rubin: I did not see Dr. No first run. The first two Bond films were released to Los Angeles theaters in 1963 [and 1964, respectively] to little fanfare. Like most of us, I caught the film when it was re-released on a celebrated double feature with From Russia with Love after the release of Goldfinger. I loved Dr. No. Connery was terrific, the women were gorgeous, Joseph Wiseman was a cool villain, and the film was well directed by Terence Young. With From Russia with Love, it was the probably the best four hours I’ve ever spent in a movie theater.
Rye: Its impact on me is clear to anyone who has followed the publication of 007 Magazine for the last three decades. When, as an 11-year-old I was taken to see Dr. No by my father at the Odeon Southall I could not in my wildest dreams at that age have imagined what I was going to see up there on that big screen in the dark with the wonderful aroma of every kind of tobacco smoke and hotdogs filling the auditorium. But as soon as it began I felt apprehensive; the unnerving electronic sounds that opened the picture, the white dot that paced across the screen, soon opening out into a view looking down a gun barrel, not through a camera iris as many people mistakenly thought (my Dad served in the Royal Navy during WWII and had firearms experience, so he was able to immediately explain to me in the cinema what it was), and a man in a hat (they wore them in those days) appears walking along as the gun barrel follows him until he quickly turns and surprisingly fires directly at me as a film of blood runs down the screen and a blast of brass stabs out the opening theme music before the blood has had a chance to reach the bottom of the screen, and the gun barrel wavers and moves down to change into a series of colored dots here, there and everywhere.
My eyes are assaulted by the shimmering colors until the first name appears on the screen “Ian Fleming’s” (who?) and the title Dr. No jumps all over the place making me feel as though I’m being subjected to the eye test from hell, then that twanging guitar of Vic Flick’s kicks in as a strip of colored squares flash the three numbers down the screen that are going to haunt me to the grave (but I don’t know it yet!) and eventually partner on screen with the words starring SEAN CONNERY,” that will have an even more spectral effect on him, but with the great side-effect of iconic fame and fabulous fortune. Colored dots, dots dots dots and more dots — I’ve often wondered what a color-blind person would have seen — until other names appear, none of whom mean anything to an 11-year-old schoolboy, but will later; some of whom I’ll interview and others who will even become friends. Wow! — bongos and dancing female and male red silhouettes overlap each other and replace the tub thumping brass as the Technicolored screen continues to dazzle and hypnotize me. Main title designed by MAURICE BINDER — remember that name Graham! Silhouettes of three blind men, blind beggars, three blind mice in the road, take over as they shuffle along to a calypso beat all the while, Produced by HARRY SALTZMAN & ALBERT R. BROCCOLI, Directed by TERENCE YOUNG — and dissolve into live action film of the three black men walking along a street, a street I later learn is in Kingston, Jamaica — but still with that light-hearted calypso tune with dark lyrics to accompany them on their way until they arrive at a sign that reads: “Queens Club PRIVATE MEMBERS ONLY” — and the lead blind beggar touches it as though he can read it by touch, even see it. Cut to four smart suited white men playing cards on a veranda, one of whom, Strangways, seemingly a nice chap, leaves the game to speak with his UK office on the telephone, while another man at the table orders more drinks, treating the black waiter he’s rung for in an arrogant, almost rude manner — not a nice chap. His look as Strangways walks away from the card game should tell me something. I don’t know how or why, but the arrogant card player knows exactly what is going to happen next. As Strangways passes the three beggars he places a coin in the first man’s begging cup, confirming for me he’s a decent chap. As he opens the door of his green Ford Anglia (my Grandmother would never have anything green colored in the house, she thought it was unlucky; and in this instance she was right!) three heavy coughs almost bark as one as Strangways’ body is hurled forward as though it has been kicked. The “beggars” aren’t blind and have shot the decent chap to death. In an instant Strangways’ body is dumped unceremoniously into a hearse which has sped into the drive, and in which the trinity of killers are chauffeured to their next hit — Strangways’ secretary Mary. Her killing is carried out just as quickly and abruptly, and mercilessly, and is even more shocking because it’s a woman, and it’s a bloody killing. Phew! All this in a breakneck opening few minutes, and I haven’t even met James Bond yet, or “M,” Moneypenny, Sylvia Trench, Quarrel, Felix Leiter, Honey Ryder — and of course, Dr. No. Over the years and after many viewings this film still remains, for me, the exciting and saucy introduction into a world that has brought me, and millions of people around the world, a great deal of pleasure and entertainment. With their instinctive abilities at being able to assemble the best possible talent around during that golden period of the 1960s, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, with a budget of barely a million dollars, managed to pull a gold-plated rabbit from a hat with Dr. No. No one at that time could possibly have dreamt the level of success this film would enjoy or that by 2002 its worldwide box office gross would have exceeded $59 million.
Coate: In what way was Sean Connery an ideal choice to play James Bond?
Burlingame: I’m sure my colleagues in this group are better equipped than I to answer this question in historical and socio-cultural detail. I can only say that for me, Connery’s toughness, his ruthlessness, his obvious comfort level with fists and firearms, his way with women, all seemed completely in sync with the Bond I had encountered in the Fleming novels — and, as depicted on screen, created an iconic screen persona that resonates decades later.
Cork: Sean Connery understood that Bond was a character who was defined by his confidence, not by his self-doubt or flaws. He was a man who came up from a hard-scrabble life in Edinburgh, Scotland. Despite his physique, he had washed out of the Navy. Focusing on bodybuilding, he took a chance on an audition as a chorus boy for the touring company of South Pacific. Offered a tryout for a major British pro football team, he took valued advice and decided to pursue acting. He remade himself into an actor. Nothing was handed to him on a silver platter. He studied the classics, he watched the pros who had attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, he learned the craft. He proved to have the perfect combination of the arrogance one obtains from being a self-made man and the swagger of having grown up on streets where fist fights were common. He held within himself the disdain and jealously for the moneyed class whom he felt had taken advantage of the British and Scottish working classes for generations. Meeting Fleming, Connery thought he was a fascinating snob, and he tried to avoid that aspect of Bond’s character. He worked with Terence Young to find a way into the character, and that came through humor. Connery’s Bond saw through the false sense of moral superiority of the British upper classes and mocked them not only with his one-liners, but by completely undermining the very notion of the British sense of “fair play.” His Bond would spy, but taunt a woman for listening at a key hole. Just because Professor Dent is supposed to be part of the “old boy” network with all the right friends at the Queen’s Club, he does not escape Bond’s suspicions. There is a wonderful expression Connery gave to Bond, one that he used on friend and foe alike, a look that said, “I think you are full of shit.” You see it when he looks at Pleydell-Smith upon his arrival in Jamaica and also at Miss Taro, but never with M or, initially, Quarrel (until the drinking starts). That is a very subtle thing for an actor to pull together, to create a character who is so fully formed that his worldview can be captured in those small interactions. It is a great performance, and without it I doubt we’d be watching James Bond films today.
Pfeiffer: There were many actors who were considered for the role of Bond. Some of the legendary stories you’ve read about them are true and others are bogus. However, it is true that Richard Johnson was actually invited to Eon’s offices in London to discuss the role. Some years ago I befriended him when he was a guest on Cinema Retro’s Movie Magic tour of England. One of the events was a screening of The Haunting at the manor house where the movie was filmed. In the course of interviewing Richard about the film, I asked him about his near-miss with Bond. He said he understood why he was offered the role because he was a classically trained actor who had attended RADA. He turned it down because he didn’t actually see the potential in the role. In fact, no one did. I don’t think anyone ever thought it would go beyond a few films and actors often didn’t want to be confined to a specific role. Johnson said he would have played the role all wrong (i.e. far too seriously). He felt that Connery, who was not locked into formal acting techniques, was more responsive to playing the role with a degree of flippancy that Johnson would have been opposed to. I think he said it best when he told us, “I was so right for the role, I would have played it wrong. Sean was so wrong for the role, that he played it right.” That is the most succinct explanation I’ve ever heard.
Rubin: Connery was just what Broccoli and Saltzman needed to flesh out James Bond: they called him a “ballsy Englishman.” Up until that point, for the most part, Brits were gentlemanly, elegant, polished, well-appointed well-dressed men, but they weren’t known for their action skills. Connery changed all that, almost overnight — introducing a whole generation of Commonwealth actors who were good with their fists. With Terence Young’s help, Connery just soaked up the role like a sponge. He wore the clothes well, projected a certain sophistication with ordering wines and caviar, but didn’t overdo it. As screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz once said, when Connery walked into the bar, you knew he was capable of killing someone. He projected raw physical power — something that has also been a hallmark of Daniel Craig.
Rye: The fact that Sean Connery was the antithesis of Ian Fleming’s James Bond made him, for a lot of people in the film industry, the entirely wrong person for the role, and accordingly he took a lot of outright insults on the chin from all and sundry who found the idea of the brawny Scot from Edinburgh being cast as Secret Agent 007 laughable in the extreme. However, what those people failed to see was that he was a highly competent actor, although still honing his craft as a big screen actor, and a sexual charisma that jumped off the screen at audiences who had never seen his like before. When Director Terence Young was interviewed in the early 1990s he said: “If you asked me what were the three ingredients for James Bond, it was Sean Connery, Sean Connery and Sean Connery!” If any other actor had been cast as James Bond in Dr. No we wouldn’t be having this discussion now in 2017 — it really is as basic and simple as that!
Coate: In what way was Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No an effective or memorable villain?
Burlingame: I loved Wiseman’s performance; it’s a highlight of the film for me. I didn’t know his work prior to this, and I understand that he later disdained the part (why did he take the role? Surely he must have found it fun to play); but he was an ideal Dr. No, from his look to his no-nonsense demeanor. And his performance here helped me to appreciate his later work, notably in the great Jerry Goldsmith-scored TV movies Pursuit and QB VII.
Cork: Wiseman set a very high bar for Bond villains to follow. He’s amazing in the role. Of course, he follows a long line of non-Asian actors who put on “yellow-face” which means on one level we can look at the performance as part of the Western cliché of Asian “inscrutability.” On another level, he plays a half-German / half-Chinese character who has rebuilt himself after a near-death experience, a man who has an almost supernatural control over his emotions. Think of him as an early Iron Man gone very wrong. I love the omniscience of his character, the way he knows everything about Bond and Bond’s actions. I am glad there is so little humanity in his performance. The dinner table scene between Dr. No and Bond ranks as one of my favorite hero and villain encounters. Wiseman was a great actor who understood that film acting was all in the subtleties. It is very hard for an actor to play a character like Dr. No with so little movement, so little expression, yet still convey so much with just a flick of direction in his eyes or a brief pause before a single word. It is a masterful performance.
Pfeiffer: The Bond producers were guilty of the widespread practice that still exists today: casting Caucasian actors in key roles as Asian characters. However, the film demanded an experienced, well-known character actor and there simply weren’t many Asian actors at the time with the kind of name recognition that Joseph Wiseman had. He was an acclaimed actor of stage, television and the big screen and his presence in the title role added another layer of respectability to the production. Wiseman is brilliant in the role. Once you are introduced to him late in the film, he tends to dominate most of what follows. His performance is so commanding that the viewer probably doesn’t realize how limited his time is on screen. More importantly, critics loved the old Flash Gordon-type villain he portrayed and he set the mode for those classic baddies who followed.
Rubin: Joseph Wiseman was a terrific villain. He set the prototype for many future Bond adversaries. Extremely wealthy, he surrounded himself with a virtual army of retainers, thugs, killers, informers, and secretaries. He’s ruthless, heartless, and egocentric. He built an island fortress from scratch. He hatches a nefarious scheme to topple American missiles, and he manages to capture Bond and Honey, allowing him to show off his scheme. I thought he nailed the role.
Rye: Joseph Wiseman brought a quiet deadly almost robotic manner to the role of Dr. No, and beautifully underplayed No’s sense of repressed anger and violence; he’s a man who’s been snubbed by the Superpowers and is intent on taking his revenge.
Coate: In what way was Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder a memorable Bond Girl?
Burlingame: Just think about that incredible introduction as she emerges from the water for the first time. It’s one of the great moments of ‘60s cinema.
Cork: “A memorable Bond Girl”? Ursula Andress defined the role of women in the James Bond films. Not only did she look beautiful, she gives a great physical performance (and Nikki van der Zyl, who dubbed her lines for the English-language release, gives Honey a perfect voice). Andress is a hypnotically beautiful actress, but more than that, she understood how to act with her eyes. She was cast off of a photo taken by her then husband John Derek, a wet t-shirt photo to be exact. Harry Saltzman saw it and brought it to Cubby, who completely ignored it until, desperate one day he started plowing through pictures trying to find an actress with the right athletic look. When he found the picture, he called Max Arnow of Columbia Pictures. Arnow told Cubby that everyone tried to cast Andress, but she was scared to act in films and had backed out of more than one. Second, he said she’s the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen, that pictures don’t do her justice, but that she has a voice like a Dutch comic! Cubby and Harry, undeterred, sent her the script. It arrived one day at her husband John Derek’s house. Kirk Douglas was visiting and he said they should do an impromptu reading. Here’s what Ursula told me about that: “We were all, you know, there on the floor, laughing and having fun with it, and then Kirk said, Ursula, you have to do it. It’s fun, it’s easy, you have to do it.”
Pfeiffer: We are finally now in an era in which audiences embrace female action heroes. That wasn’t the case when Dr. No was released. The term “Bond Girl” has sometimes been used derisively in the sense that, in some quarters, Bond’s leading ladies are painted as shallow, brainless beauties. In fact, in the overwhelming number of cases that wasn’t true. Ursula Andress (who was dubbed for the role despite being able to speak fluent English) set the high water mark for a Bond heroine. She’s intelligent, courageous and self-reliant. She’s also comfortable with her outlook on sex which would be deemed promiscuous by the standards of the day. We don’t actually see Honey and Bond as lovers during the course of the adventure because for the most part their lives are in danger. However, the last scene in the film clearly implies that they will finally get up close and personal now that the crisis has passed. Andress in her white bikini represents one of the great screen entrances of all time, matched by Connery’s introduction in the film, which was said to have been inspired by Paul Munee’s first appearance in the film Juarez.
Rubin: Ursula Andress made what was arguably the greatest entrance of any actress in the history of movies. Coming out of the water in that tight, dripping, white bikini was just stunning to this teenage American boy. How could she not make an impression? She’s also very believable as an island girl, very knowledgeable about sea shells and marine life, and a great teammate for Connery. Certainly, a nod should also be given to Nikki Van Der Zyl for completely re-voicing Andress.
Rye: One only has to look at Ursula’s face, and her body dressed in that brief white bikini to answer that question. Anyone not being aroused by her appearance in Dr. No must have been dead above and below the belt!
Coate: Where do you think Dr. No ranks among the James Bond movie series?
Burlingame: It’s a difficult question. It might not be my first choice, considering that the series grew by leaps and bounds as Broccoli, Saltzman, Young, Connery, editor Peter Hunt et al. found their way over the next few movies. I still think Goldfinger is the pinnacle of that 1960s period and I would probably watch all of the other ‘60s films before the first installment. But there is still much to recommend about that first film, not the least of which are the actors we’ve just discussed. So I would say that, of the 24 official Bond films, Dr. No would be in the first half.
Cork: When I ranked them all in 2012 with my son, I ranked it fourth. My son, who was 12 at the time, ranked it seventh. Many modern viewers are much harsher on the film. I love the way it draws you into Dr. No’s exotic, seductive, and very deadly world.
Pfeiffer: I would certainly rank it in the top ten. The film has aged amazingly well, as have all of the early Bonds. Aside from some fashions and vintage cars, the basic scripts could easily be converted into contemporary thrillers. Because it was the first film in the series, some of the trademark characteristics we would come to associate with the franchise were not in place yet. The formula was just being established and therefore was not perfected. So there is an oddball quality to some aspects of the production when compared to the comfortable template the movies that followed would adhere to. That’s also part of the film’s charm. We’re watching the birth of an iconic screen hero.
Rubin: It has a dated element to it, but that adds to its charm. This is, indeed, early Bond. There’s no digital effects, and Bond doesn’t act like a robot with gadgets. He sits down in a Jamaican hotel room and pours himself a drink, then goes to bed, eventually battling a poisonous spider, which he pounds into pulp. There’s a rawness to Connery and rawness to the sexuality between him and Sylvia Trench, Miss Taro and Honey. It’s just refreshing to see the story just play without distractions. The repartee with M, Q and Moneypenny is business like but fun. I personally like the music very much. I would rank it in the top ten Bond films of all time.
Rye: It’s a little rough around the edges in various places and lacks the sophistication of, say, Goldfinger or Thunderball, or the quality screenplay and cast of From Russia with Love, but it’s still a cracking piece of entertainment, and Connery makes it the watchable exciting adventure it still is.
Coate: What is the legacy of Dr. No?
Burlingame: From my music-centric vantage point, my first thought is the introduction of the James Bond Theme as composed by Monty Norman, arranged and conducted by John Barry. It’s easy to forget that that one minute and 45 second piece of music is now among the most significant and impactful pieces of movie music in the 20th century. What Barry created by taking the Norman tune and embellishing it (partly pop, partly jazz, partly orchestral) was a huge breakthrough in scoring action-adventure films, something he expanded upon for the rest of the Bond films in the 1960s.
In a more general sense, the film not only launched one of the biggest, most successful movie franchises in history, it single-handedly defined the spy film genre for many years. It launched several careers on both sides of the camera and look, after 55 years we are still debating and discussing the Cinematic Bond as created by Dr. No. How many other movies can boast such a legacy?
Cork: There are only a handful of movies that change cinema, that re-wire popular culture, that last on for generations. Dr. No is one of those films.
There were very profitable film series prior to James Bond. Tarzan, Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, the Road movies, all the way to Ma and Pa Kettle and the Francis the Talking Mule films. These films were generally made by the “B” units of the studios. Some, like Tarzan, started as high-budget “A” films, then migrated to the “B” units as box office fell. In many ways, Dr. No was a “B” picture for United Artists (although the way UA was set up, there were no “A” and “B” units).
One of the producers (Cubby Broccoli) had long been making the kind of films that looked like they could have mostly been taken from articles in men’s adventure magazines of the era. Broccoli (and his producing partner Irving Allen) made films inexpensively, using embargoed studio profits trapped in Britain under the Eady Levy tax scheme. That Eady Levy money had to be spent on “home-grown” British films made by mostly British crews. This investment elevated the British film industry to remarkable heights. While Broccoli’s modestly-budgeted films like Safari and Odongo did well at the box office in the US as mostly second-billing fare, Eady money was soon financing massively budgeted top-billing films like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sons and Lovers, The Guns of Navarone, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Lawrence of Arabia. Cubby Broccoli very much wanted to be making larger films in this mold. His first attempt, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, failed, but he saw great potential with Bond. As importantly, United Artists also saw that potential.
Everyone succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. The success of Dr. No led to increasing budgets for the Bond films that followed. Although not thought of in this form at the time, Dr. No launched the idea of the modern studio franchise. These films are now referred to as “tent pole” films. They are all but guaranteed to not only turn a profit, but to create so much profit that they cover the losses from other films at the studios.
Dr. No begins the process of shifting studio resources from big-budget “prestige” films (usually based on major best-selling books, or big-budget musicals adapted from Broadway shows) to big-budget films aimed basically at the imagination of 14-year-old boys. By the mid-1970s every studio considered successful films to be the potential launching point for a series that, like Bond, could draw steady audiences every year or two. Broccoli also urged United Artists to launch the Bond films in as many theaters as possible, advertising nationally, capitalizing on the built-in audience. Very few films buck that formula today.
Dr. No not only gave us the cinematic James Bond, but it gave us much of the film industry we have today. That’s quite a legacy.
Pfeiffer: Dr. No’s legacy is that of an action adventure film that influenced the movie industry in ways that can hardly be imagined by younger audiences. Were it not for the Bond movies, who knows if the action heroes we revere today would even be in existence. Dr. No launched the Bond phenomenon, which in turn launched the spy movie boom of the 1960s. The influence is still felt today. Spy movie crazes come and go and right now they are hot again. The Mission: Impossible films are still very popular today — but how many people realize they wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the classic TV series that would not have existed without the success of the 007 franchise? Prior to Dr. No, espionage films generally showed the realistic, drab side of spying. Bond made it glamorous…and often preposterous, but that was part of the fun. Today most of the big screen spy heroes revel at some point in glamour. There’s almost always scenes involving people dressed to the nines in exotic locations and engaging in exotic and erotic activities. It can all be traced back to Dr. No.
Rubin: Dr. No’s legacy is that it was the birth of Bond — a very good, memorable birth that set the tone for many James Bond adventures to come. It will be remembered for introducing Sean Connery and Ursula Andress to international audiences, and initiating the most successful film series in history.
Rye: The twenty-three films that followed it, some better, but more mostly worse, and some, a lot worse!
Coate: Thank you — Jon, John, Lee, Steven and Graham— for participating and sharing your thoughts about Dr. No on the occasion of its 55th anniversary.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Die Another Day” on its 15th Anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, CBS-Fox Home Video, Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, MGM Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.
Sheldon Hall and John Hazelton
- Michael Coate